New Zealand: London graduate and child among four dead after Cyclone Gabrielle batters North Island

A firefighter who studied in London is among at least four people killed after a cyclone caused extensive flooding and landslides in New Zealand.

Cyclone Gabrielle struck the country’s north on Monday bringing more destruction to the nation than any weather event in decades.

Among those killed was volunteer firefighter Dave van Zwanenberg, who had been missing since a landslip toppled houses in Muriwai on Auckland’s west coast on Monday night.

“It is with great sadness that I confirm that it is our missing firefighter from the Muriwai Volunteer Fire Brigade,” Fire and Emergency chief executive Kerry Gregory said on Wednesday.

Mr van Zwananberg, a father-of-two, graduated as a vet in London in 2005 and initially worked in Devon.

Another firefighter was critically injured by the same landslide on Monday night.

A child died after being caught in rising water on Tuesday at Eskdale on Hawke’s Bay. All four fatalities occurred near the same North Island east coast bay.

A lorry stranded on a road covered with debris near Wairoa (New Zealand Defence Force/AFP vi)
A lorry stranded on a road covered with debris near Wairoa (New Zealand Defence Force/AFP vi)

A woman was also killed by a landslide at Putorino and a body was found on a shore at Napier on Tuesday, police said.

Police said 1,442 people had been reported uncontactable in the North Island by Wednesday afternoon. The large number could be explained by widespread disruptions to telecommunications and power.

Around 144,000 properties on the North Island were without power on Wednesday, down from 225,000 on Tuesday, The New Zealand Herald reported.

A weather station in the Hawke’s Bay and Napier region recorded three times more rain over Monday night than usually falls for the entire month of February, authorities said.

More than 300 people were rescued Tuesday from that same flooded bay area, including 60 stranded on a single roof, Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said. Helicopters would help make the final 25 rescues of individuals and family groups on Wednesday.

“Our emergency services are still carrying out rescues and land searches in a number of places,” Mr McAnulty told reporters.

The scale of the flooding in Napier is revealed in this aerial shot (AFP via Getty Images)
The scale of the flooding in Napier is revealed in this aerial shot (AFP via Getty Images)

King Charles III’s sister Princess Anne visited New Zealand’s disaster management headquarters in the capital, Wellington, on Wednesday and praised the nation’s response. Her visit to New Zealand was scheduled before the cyclone struck.

“My thoughts are with all New Zealanders whose homes or livelihoods have been affected by Cyclone Gabrielle,” she said in a statement.

“I admire the courage of the people of Aotearoa during this alarming and difficult time,” she said.

“You should all be proud of the resilience, strength and care for your communities you are showing in the face of adversity,” she added.

Around 9,000 people have been forced from their homes since Monday, with several communities isolated by floodwaters and landslides, he said.

“Everyone knows we have a long path ahead of us as we deal with extensive damage to homes, businesses, roads and bridges and other fundamental parts of our infrastructure,” Mr McAnulty said.

“This is a significant disaster and it is going to take many weeks for those areas most affected to recover,” he added.

Auckland was swamped two weeks ago by a record-breaking storm that also killed four people.

A national emergency was declared Tuesday, enabling the government to support affected regions and provide additional resources. It is only the third national emergency ever declared.